Olivia Spencer Bower spent her childhood in Bournemouth, England. In the 1920s her family moved to Christchurch where her mother Rosa Dixon worked as a professional artist. Spencer Bower studied at the Canterbury School of Art along with Rita Angus and Rata Lovell-Smith. At this time she explored the New Zealand countryside, painting landscapes from a high viewpoint.
She returned to Europe for 2 years in 1929 where she studied with Henry Tonks at the Slade School, and travelled on the Continent. On her return to Christchurch she began to exhibit with the "Group" producing works which focussed on the landscape with a strong emphasis on linearity. In 1943 she travelled to Northland and painted with Sydney Lough Thompson on one of his brief visits back to New Zealand from Brittany. Later in the year she moved to Auckland to take lessons from A. Lois White, John Weeks and A.J.C. Fisher at the Elam School of Art.
In the late 40s she travelled to Rawene in Northland to recuperate from a chronic illness, and there she did studies of Maori mothers with babies at the local hospital. She later returned to Christchurch where caring for her elderly mother took precedence over her art production and after the death of her mother in 1960, she travelled to the Pacific, works from which were reviewed enthusiastically on her return. Her watercolours were described as having a "tremendous sense of liberation and vigour"...
In 1963 she returned to Europe and Russia, and painted in Suffolk at Flatford Mill: John Constable country and a favourite haunt of Frances Hodgkins. Again the exhibitions on her return were highly acclaimed by the critics. Her figurative works were imbued with the same sense of dynamism and as with her landscapes, captured moments in time. Spencer Bower's paintings are noted for their careful selection of colour and line applied with a spontaneity that defies her meticulous professionalism.